Preparations for the fiscal year 2023 budget are underway, and City Council has scheduled public hearings after 5 p.m. in September for the proposed budget.
City staff are committed to being cost effective, efficient and effective with City revenues. Challenges from red tide, blue/green algae, hurricanes and COVID-19 were met through our strong contingency strategies and financial reserves, while our rates and fees remained stable and “down” compared to our municipal peers.
To that end, our preliminary general operating budget for fiscal year 2023 has been prepared at the same rate of 0.95 mills per $1,000 of property value as the past two fiscal years.
Every year since 2017, City staff carry out a “deferral of savings” unforeseen income combined with expenses below the authorized budget. And while it’s true that we’ve seen further growth in legally capped property values, we’ve also recently seen significant inflation. In 2022 alone, inflation is estimated at around 10%. The increase in property values will generate additional property taxes of 4.2%. However, this only partially solves/mitigates this economic reality.
As you may recall, in September 2021, City Council adopted 0.95 mileage (instead of 0.87) as a strategy to fund the redevelopment of the Bay Oaks Recreation Campus, Bayside Park (the construction just completed) and Times Square. This strategy financed a loan of 10 million dollars which will be supplemented by subsidies for the construction of these three projects. Repayments on this loan are not due to begin until December 2023, but we have started repaying this year.
When we compare the city against other municipalities based on Florida Municipality mileage rates in 2021, only nine other municipalities in the state of Florida have a lower mileage rate than the city of Fort Myers Beach. We should be extremely proud to rank 381 out of 391 local governments in Florida, which includes one dissolved municipality, if the rate remains at 0.95 mils.
City Council will debate up to a 0.04 mill increase to fund new recurring initiatives. Initiatives include improving public safety, restoring beaches, road safety lighting, and workforce housing, among others.
Fortunately, thanks to sound financial management, the City has $2 million to fund new initiatives. However, the list of proposed initiatives exceeds $3 million. City Council will be faced with the difficult task of considering the inflationary impact on fees and prioritizing and allocating funds to some of these improvements.
Assuming the rate is finally adjusted to 0.99 mills in the September budget hearings, the city’s ranking would then become 380 out of 391, rising one point to 11th lowest in the state of Florida, including a municipality dissolved.
At 0.99 mill, it is estimated that a homestead valued at $538,000 would pay the city of Fort Myers Beach $512 a year. On this sample property, the owner would also pay $2,182 to Lee County; $3,263 to Lee County Public Schools and $1,608 to the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District, among others, based on preliminary information available.
Another critical program, separate from the general fund and property taxes, is our utility department’s infrastructure projects. City staff, with the support of Council, have steadily pursued the implementation of water and stormwater improvements funded by rate adjustments recommended by an independent consultant. This collaboration has allowed us to go beyond the joint project with Lee County to complete downtown streets. We are now proposing to upgrade the 16 most needy local roads with the greatest risk of flooding in 2023.
Past project costs so far have been lower than original estimates and funded through the state’s revolving financing program at very low interest rates. Stormwater maintenance efforts have been enhanced and are now self-funded without further contributions from the general fund or gasoline taxes.
In summary, by working together, the city’s cash position continues to be strong, our reserves are stable and we are in a better position to deal with new initiatives. Under the direction of City Council, we can continue to renew and replace existing assets and implement new strategic improvements in our city.